Blooms and blossom in Tauranga
This Tauranga garden is one to stroll through, past the bubbling brook, ponds, blossoming trees and plants that simply take the breath away.
Now is the best time to stroll through this breathtaking Bay of Plenty garden.
Bronwyn and Neil Towersey liken the initial clearing of their property to a voyage of discovery. A wee bubbling brook, a timber jetty and large rocks were amongst the treasures unearthed. The discovery didn’t include many plants to excite, but the Towerseys were well-equipped to add these themselves. And so they have over the seven years they’ve resided on the Tauranga site in a subdivision hugging the city’s rural boundary.
It’s still suburbia though, so their 6000-square metre site with ponds, towering trees and sprawling banks of blooms is eye-catchingly unexpected. In spring the cherry tree blossoms alone have stopped a passing car or two.
The Towerseys have called a diverse range of properties home over the years, with most enjoying beautiful borrowed vistas, bordering a pond or neighbouring a farm, for example. An outlook celebrating nature has always been of major importance to them and now they’ve created it on their own land. It’s their turn to provide a borrowed view to their thrilled neighbours – all the more spectacular given what it has replaced.
“The gardens were overgrown and had, apparently, put off prospective buyers,” Bronwyn says, citing bracken, big clumps of flax and a mismatch of shrubs as some of its less-than-redeeming features. “We spent several thousand dollars getting rid of stuff. We got in the biggest skip I had seen in my life, but that only dealt to half of what we’d cleared.”
Neil tells how clearing the site was the first task they tackled once they’d moved in, consuming much of their first summer there, and plenty of their energy. “We shimmied off a couple of kilos,” he laughs.
Bronwyn loves perennials and roses, and the border-type look of gardens. Favoured bloom colours are pink, white, lilac and green.
The idea was to clear the site and then see how the space looked before serious planting started. One bank – close to the roadside – was completely bare to start with, so that provided a pleasing blank canvas.
The Towersey’s house is on a rise, with their land sweeping down to two spring-fed ponds joined by the narrow brook they uncovered. It was initially impossible to access parts of the ponds as their margins were overgrown with bracken and flaxes. Those were relegated to the awaiting skip, and an improved access and view of the ponds was achieved – all the better to view the resident ducks (Charlie and Camilla) and duck visitors, eels, an occasional shag, and large clusters of water lilies. Admired pink and white lilies thrive in one pond, and a tolerated Mexican yellow variety in the other (yellow is not a favoured hue in any garden belonging to Bronwyn.)
Trees were inherited with the property, but not all have remained. Three enormous willow trees wept into the pond, but only one has survived; the others met their demise via the black willow aphid. The Towerseys are happy the ‘Awanui’ cherry trees continue to thrive and retain their place as stars of the garden in spring. Sharing the glory are ‘Forest Pansy’ trees, their spring blossoms transitioning into beautiful summer, then autumn, foliage. Other towering trees already in situ included an exotic mix of Magnolia grandiflora, box elders and tupelo. The latter, with its distinct pyramid shape, is an autumn stunner. Tree surgeons had been called upon to fell four robinias and some towering oaks up near the house. The consolation is the opened-up vista and the retention of five majestic oaks. The future of two large Phoenix palms is under debate.
“The plants watch over their shoulder for Bronny coming with the spade. They know not to get too comfortable as she likes to shift things.”
Planting was done in stages. There was no piped water down the lower reaches of the property, so water was carted in cans from the pond. While these days Bronwyn waters the border gardens around the house, the plants on the banks and pond-side don’t get this treat. “We planted tougher stuff that can handle drier conditions down there,” Bronwyn explains, rattling off a list that includes dahlias, Orlaya grandiflora (“like Queen Anne’s lace but drought hardy”), catnip, phlomis, lamb’s ear and viburnums. Maples – with their “gorgeous soft foliage” in summer and retained good looks in autumn – go hand in hand with water, she advises, so these too have found a home there.
Neil adds that it’s not unusual for the plants to move from one home to another. “The plants watch over their shoulder for Bronny coming with the spade. They know not to get too comfortable as she likes to shift things.”
Also to be found by the pond is the huge, attentiongrabbing gunnera with its leaves resembling elephant skin. “It’s a restricted plant now but I love its architectural form and shape. It’s fantastic by water as it’s a bog plant. It fills a big space and we’ve got a lot of that,” Bronwyn says.
While the garden includes varieties that put on quite a show in the colder months, Bronwyn and Neil’s garden is really about celebrating spring and summer. Winter is the time the garden is put to bed, but that doesn’t stop the likes of oak-leaved hydrangea ( Hydrangea quercifolia) from flaunting its rich russet foliage. In the warmer seasons it’s a show of long trusses of white double flowers. The big, lime green mopheads of Hydrangea ‘Annabelle’ also put on an impressive performance. Hydrangeas, various ligularias, Acanthus mollis, strawberry foxgloves, bluebells and campanulas are amongst the plants thriving under the big trees on the banks of this garden. So too are hellebores and Stachyurus praecox, both rated amongst Bronwyn’s favourite flowers.
Bronwyn also speaks of her love of perennials and roses, and the border-type look of gardens. Favoured bloom colours are pink, white, lilac and green. A superb example of the latter is the Euphorbia wulfenii.
Rose varieties are numerous, including the highly scented ‘Wildeve’, ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ and Neil’s favourite, ‘Scentimental’. The ‘General Gallieni’ nearly drives Bronwyn to tears. “It’s such a long-flowering rose. I almost cry when I have to give it its autumn prune,” she says. The white ‘Wedding Day’ rose is left to provide a rose hip display in winter, and the ‘Sally Holmes’ with its buffy, blowsy blooms, sprawls across fence lines.
The Towersey garden hasn’t been created at huge cost. Cuttings have come from friends and families. “A lot of plants tell a story and come from either somewhere or someone special,” says Bronwyn, who even has some from her great-grandmother. Plants have been resurrected
from throw-out bins and they’ve also been divided up and seedlings collected. “Easily two-thirds of what we have has been propagated one way or other and that’s very satisfying,” Neil says.
They’re not utter purists though, Bronwyn quips, as they do buy their vegetables as seedlings.
Bronwyn is well positioned to know about propagation with a work history rich in horticulture, floristry, nursery management and landscaping. Neil, meanwhile has stretched his skills beyond his position of school principal – he’s the creative force behind the garden obelisks and the bird-feeding table, and he’s been an enthusiastic learner when it has come to deadheading, cutting and pruning. He’s the lawn-mower too. Neil obviously shares his wife’s delight in what they have created.
“This is what we love,” he says, nodding to a t¯u¯i splashing in one of the bird baths dotted along the top of the garden where the view of landings can be enjoyed from the house. Wood pigeons have started bathing too, Bronwyn is thrilled to say. She recently observed one “as big as a Tegel chicken” enjoying the bird bath outside her office window.
The Towerseys cherish the wildlife their land attracts – kingfishers, blue herons, wax-eyes, fantails, gold and green finches as well as the pond dwellers already mentioned. At night, hedgehogs scuttle along, and moreporks and frogs are heard. And just before these critters do their thing, Bronwyn and Neil can be found – often with wineglass in hand – enjoying an evening stroll around their garden. It’s a peaceful and restful way to end the day, Bronwyn says. “We look forward to weekends when we can get out and work in it together. It’s hard work, but it’s very much a labour of love.” ✤
How to visit: The Towersey garden is open to the public during the Bay Of Plenty Garden & Art Festival, November 15-18. Details at gardenandartfestival.co.nz.
Foam flower (Tiarella).
Bronwyn and her dad David Leaf, with Daisy the cavoodle.
The seat just below the house – a great vantage point from which to look over the garden borders to the pond.
Bluebells, ajugas and ferns have naturalised under the ‘Awanui’ cherry tree.